Tonight we being part one of a two part look into a movie legend: the King of All Monsters. You see, there are two versions of the classic movie Godzilla. There is the original Japanese version, and the American version. Unlike the Power Rangers franchise, they are essentially the same story. However, both versions approach the story from different angles, which practically makes them totally different movies.
Tonight, courtesy of
Joost Hulu, we start with the original Japanese version (with subtitles). So grab your popcorn (or in my case “puff corn”, bless your heart Chester Cheetah) and relax with the 1954 classic Gojira.
(Update:8/23/2010> Yes, I know the video no longer works, but I want to keep the space open in case someday someone takes over hosting it.)
(Update 2: 7/21/2011> Hulu now has the video, so new embed. Note that the article will still reference Joost, and I’m not changing the picture.)
Vodpod videos no longer available.
Since I can’t post via
Joost Hulu directly, and Vodpod postings won’t go fullscreen for whatever reason, you might want to the source to get it full sized.
In the original Japanese version, Gojira (I’ll use this name for the movie, but stick with the American name Godzilla for the character and italicize Godzilla when discussing the US movie for both articles) is actually less about the monster than it is how the people react. Anyone with even limited knowledge of Gojira/Godzilla trivia knows that the movie was a comment on the dangers of nuclear weapons, or more specifically the atomic bomb. Interestingly, the term came before the bomb from fiction itself. In H.G. Wells‘ novel The World Set Free, (also available as an audiobook) the author mentions a bomb that accelerates the breakdown of radioactive elements and keeps exploding for days. Scientist Leó Szilárd was inspired by this book (Wells based his fictional bombs on real science potential) when creating the atom bomb, even naming it after the book. I hear Wells was…shall we say less than pleased.
The movie’s main focus being about the people (an allegory to the atom bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the emotional if not nuclear fallout still strong in the minds of the Japanese), the later scenes as the survivors of Godzilla’s assaults are rather moving, as is one scene in particular that I had to get the subtitled screen cap for (the rest used a “raw” version that Joost has up for some reason, still in Japanese but without subtitles). When Godzilla finally hits Tokyo (the first of many visits), there’s a scene with a woman clutching her daughter as the city burns and collapses around them.
Just seeing the picture brings that scene back, and while you would think it would be padding, it absolutely isn’t to me. Instead it is one of many scenes that really brings home the impact of a giant, heat-spewing monster running through your city. I found this moment to be the most powerful of them all, and there is a lot of competition in this film. Compare that with the later movies (up until the semi-reboot in 1984), where the city-wide destruction is glossed over or ignored in favor of kids happily cheering their favorite “guardian monster”. It wasn’t until the movie we know as Godzilla 1985 that this version of Godzilla would stomp his way through the city. Only one person was hoping the monster would survive, which I’ll get to in a moment. Here he is the tower of death and destruction today’s audience knows him, rather than the friendly, and sometimes silly defender of the innocent my generation mostly saw him as. The extras act out the scenes with a lot of energy, which on occasion appear overly dramatic, if only slightly. Most of the time, however, you complete feel the pain of the people as they either die or watch loved ones parish. There’s one scene with a little girl crying when what I’m assuming is her parent dies of radiation. I sometimes wondered if any of these scenes were taken from the actual bomb aftermath rather than acted out for the sake of Gojira.
OK, let’s get the irradiated mutant elephant out of the way. This was 1954, and one of–if not the first of what is referred to as “kaiju” movies, which translates as “strange beast” according to Wikipedia. Because of this, we see the origins of the genre. Yes, the close-up head is a puppet, and I’m sure one of the tail sequences was stop-motion, unless this was just downloading funny at the time I watched it. (I do have an old fansub on VHS I should take a look at to compare.) The black and white video hides some of the defects of the costume which would be obvious in many of the redesigns used in the color versions up to the relaunch in 1984. I know (boy do I know) that defenders of the Tri-Star movie love to comment negatively about the “cheesy” costumes in favor of the CG monster. Try and look past that, compare the two movies, and tell me that the movie G-Fans often refer to as GINO (Godzilla In Name Only, although Toho officially gave the monster the name “Zilla“) really matches up with this movie. Toho would later treat the character rather poorly in the movie Godzilla: Final Wars. Personally, I think that’s a shame, since there was a lot of potential for “Zilla” with some minor rework, as the animated series proved. While I did enjoy the US flick for what it was and despite it’s flaws, I’ll take rubber suit any day over computer generated if the writing is this good!
The primary actors so sell this movie. First there is Momoko Kouchi as the female lead, Emiko Yamane. Her character may well be the most tortured of the four leads. First she is engaged to a man she only thinks of as a brother. Then she meets a man she loves very much and wants to marry him, which he reciprocates. Shortly after the early rumblings of a giant dinosaur stomping around (no pun intended), she finds out that her fiance has accidentally created the most devastating weapon ever and has to keep it a secret. (She’s even seen it in action, like she needed any more nightmare fuel.) Now she has to decide whether to betray a man she cares for, which technically she’s already done in favor of a man she loves, in the hopes of saving Japan and possibly the world, or keep a promise to protect us from the “Oxygen Destroyer” in the future. All this while being a rather shy girl. You really don’t envy her in this movie.
The Godzilla Wiki doesn’t a have lot to say about her, but in her father’s entry the author theorized that she may not have married or had kids. That’s the biggest shame. I really wanted more of a scene where Serizawa acknowledged that he wanted Emiko and Ogata to have a life together, and that the couple could at least have some kind of happy ending. Instead, we only get one line that may not discourage any guilt, thus preventing Emiko from ever being truly happy.
As for Hideo Ogata, Godzilla Wiki has even less to say about him. Actor Akira Takarada does a decent enough job, but his character really isn’t a part of this movie other than some extra tension for Emiko. He does convince her that she’s right about going to Serizawa about using the Oxygen Destroyer on Godzilla, but otherwise the only thing memorable about him is bad timing. When Emiko goes to Serizawa to tell him that she is in love with another man, it happens to be the same day the good doctor decides to tell her about the science gone bad, even showing her just how devastating it is and why he’s been keeping it a secret. When Ogata decides to ask her father to take over as Emiko’s fiance, they get into an argument over Godzilla and the old jerk kicks him out. I really hope that the two of them do find some measure of happiness, but the movie is sadly ambiguous about any hope in their future. If anyone deserves to be happy in this, it would be Emiko, and Ogata really loves her.
Yes, I referred to Kyohei Yamane as a jerk, and through the last half of this movie I really wanted to smack the guy upside the head with a dinosaur bone. Takashi Shimura‘s paleontologist is the only character to return in the first true sequel, Godzilla Raids Again. The actor himself has many film credits before and after, including other kaiju films like Mothra. Dr. Yamane believes that studying Godzilla to learn how he survived the fallout of nuclear bomb tests could be beneficial to the world, and no matter how much devastation the monster causes and how many lives he takes (presumably until he sees it all for himself) nearly falls apart wishing that everyone else wasn’t so concerned with destroying him. I really hated the guy through much of the film, but at least I cared about the character enough, and Shimura really comes across not so much as evil but honestly concerned about the benefits of studying Godzilla. At least he does offer an opening for future movies by saying that it is possible more testing could lead to another Godzilla, which would be the case a year later.
Of course, if anyone could challenge Emiko for the title of most tortured soul in this movie, it would have to be Daisuke Serizawa, the scientist who has the power to save or destroy the world. I have no idea what kind of benefit finding an element that can eliminate oxygen from water can really be. Then again, since the “O” in H2O (the scientific name for water) stands for “oxygen”, he’s pretty much learned how to create liquid hydrogen (the “H”) easily, so maybe he could have advanced the liquid hydrogen fuel plan. Then again, that would take water out of the water cycle, so eco-nuts would still have a fit. Really, his weapon would only kill sea life or anyone who happened to be in the water body at the time, so while there is still a lot of deadly potential…I’m getting off point. This may be Dr. Serizawa’s only original appearance in the franchise, but Akihiko Hirata would see his face on screen in a Gojira/Godzilla movie again. Actually, his IMDB page says that he would show up again as different characters, and if he hadn’t passes away in 1984 he would have seen Dr. Serizawa appear in flashbacks in the rebooted series. (In fact, in one movie the Oxygen Destroyer would be responsible for creating a new monster called Destroyah.)
Serizawa has the least screen time of the four main characters. For most of the movie, he stays in his lab, no doubt agonizing over what he can do with the Oxygen Destroyer. The only times he’s seen outside is when the others head for the island where Godzilla was first seen, and at the end, when he sacrifices himself to kill Godzilla along with destroying any way to recreate his deadly creation. If there was anything missing it was any sign of what his affection actually was toward his fiance. (Emiko tells Ogata that Serizawa was like a brother to her, and always was.) He did trust her enough with the secret, but didn’t seem outraged when Emiko tells Ogata. Perhaps he was also thinking that he could stop Godzilla, but his fears of others trying to get their hands on such a weapon are justified, the world being what it is, and even was back in 50’s. You really feel for the poor guy, and fully understand his noble decision at the end.
So the original Gojira isn’t the simple giant monster battles of the sequel movies, or the monster attacks movie of the 1984 spiritual sequel and the US re-imagining. But what about the first US movie? Is it the same movie, just with Raymond Burr, or a new take on the same story? Join me here next week, when we will look at Godzilla: King of the Monsters